Since most of the tracks on Low Down Memphis Barrelhouse Blues are easily available on various Document Complete Recorded Works in Chronological Order CDs and JSP box sets, I used to question the point of posting prewar blues comps like this. However, after receiving positive feedback in response to sharing similar albums in the past, I no longer second-guess myself on such matters. Even if these collections contain material that can be found elsewhere, the songs can take on new life if they are presented within the context of a thoughtfully-assembled mix such as this one.
In similar fashion to other titles from the catalogue of Don Kent's Mamlish label, several of the tracks featured on Low Down Memphis Barrelhouse Blues would later reappear on a CD in the Yazoo 2000-series, the strongly recommended Memphis Masters. Like that subsequent release, this compilation of material recorded between 1928 and 1935 provides a broad overview of performers who operated within the cultural and geographic orbit of that famed Southern river metropolis. It emphasizes some of the lesser-known bluesmen of Memphis as well as musicians normally associated with the city's best-known jug band recording under their own names.
Hattie Hart, who occasionally belted out vocals for the Memphis Jug Band, finds herself backed by the twin guitar attack of Willie Borum and Allen Shaw on the forthright "I Let My Daddy Do That." Two alumni of that same group, Will Shade and Jab Jones respectively lay down steady guitar and some outstanding piano work on "Better Leave that Stuff Alone," an admonition to the dangers of drinking canned heat. The incomparable Robert Wilkins, whose "Alabama Blues" ably demonstrates his instrumental dexterity and unique sound, ranks highly among the significant group of musicians from northern Mississippi who relocated to Memphis and did much to contribute to its rich music scene. Cocaine-snorting songster Jim Jackson also came from this region, although he was a generation older and generally favored material more suitable for medicine shows, with "Bootlegging Blues" being one of his more instrumentally advanced performances. "Policy Rag" and "Doctor Medicine" are two driving dance instrumentals from the South Memphis Jug Band, arguably the bluesiest of such aggregations who operated in the city. Consisting of guitarists Jack Kelly and Dan Sane (Frank Stokes' erstwhile partner), fiddler Will Batts, and jug blower "Doctor" D.M. Higgs, this was one tough-sounding unit. The latter piece refers to Higgs' additional talents as a practitioner of herbal medicine. Attributed to Kelly, the magnificent "Highway No. 61 Blues" can essentially be considered another side by the South Memphis Jug Band, but with the aforementioned guitarist also handling the vocals. "Shake Mattie" (with its "shake, rattle, and roll" line making it a precursor to rock 'n' roll) and "My Washwoman's Gone" are two of the greatest duets that Kansas Joe McCoy and Memphis Minnie ever recorded, due in large part to his plaintive vocals and her amazing slide guitar work. "Reachin' Pete," with lyrics about a long-armed lawman, is a worthwhile solo recording by Minnie, but not as compelling as those two earlier cuts. Apparently, James "Mooch" Richardson originally hailed from eastern Arkansas and, not surprisingly, comes off as the most rural-sounding of the artists profiled here. He is something of an acquired taste, displaying a rudimentary approach to guitar and a deliberate vocal style that might grow on some people over time. "T and T Blues" and "Low Down Barrelhouse Blues Pt. 1" are more typical of his modus operandi, while Lonnie Johnson's surprising presence greatly enhances "Burying Ground Blues." I never considered Sleepy John Estes to be much of a guitarist, but I always liked how he sang, especially when backed by the mandolin of Yank Rachel and the piano of the previously-cited Jab Jones as heard on "My Black Gal Blues."
1. I Let My Daddy Do That - Hattie Hart
2. Better Leave that Stuff Alone - Will Shade
3. Alabama Blues - Robert Wilkins
4. Policy Rag - South Memphis Jug Band
5. Doctor Medicine - South Memphis Jug Band
6. Shake Mattie - Kansas Joe & Memphis Minnie
7. My Washwoman's Gone - Kansas Joe & Memphis Minnie
8. T and T Blues - Mooch Richardson
9. My Black Gal Blues - Sleepy John Estes
10. Highway No. 61 Blues - Jack Kelly
11. Burying Ground Blues - Mooch Richardson
12. Bootlegging Blues - Jim Jackson
13. Reachin' Pete - Memphis Minnie
14. Low Down Barrelhouse Blues Pt. 1 - Mooch Richardson